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One year does not make a trend. Performance ebbs and flows in baseball—more for some players than others, to be sure—so it’s always smart to be skeptical of significant single-season variances.

This year, for example, we’ve seen Carlos Gomez’s contact rate decline by eight percentage points (76.6 percent to 68.6 percent) while he’s actually chasing fewer pitches outside the strike zone. That’s interesting, yes, but probably not meaningful at this point. Robinson Cano saw his walk rate decline and his swinging-strike rate increase well outside of their recent norms; lo and behold, those numbers have bounced back early this season and he appears to be the same guy he’s been since roughly 2010.

Sometimes, though, early-season numbers confirm changes that strangely popped up the previous season.

Derek Norris never posted a walk rate below 13.3 percent in a full season in the minors. He seemingly fit perfectly into the Oakland Athletics’ sabermetric preferences, eventually ending his Oakland career with a 11.4 percent walk rate and a swing rate that dropped each season he was in The Town. Upon arriving in San Diego in 2015, though, something funny happened. He walked less, he swung more, he chased more, and he swung-and-missed more often. The 6.3 percent walk rate next to his name at the end of the year looked to be a typo or a statistical miscalculation.

Norris made up for it in fantasy leagues with extra playing time and solid power numbers for a catcher. He ranked as the eighth-best fantasy catcher at the end of the year. It was tough to complain about such a performance, even if his underlying approach had changed in a concerning manner—and that doesn’t even discuss the fact that he can’t really hit righties. I wrote in January that Norris is “someone who lacks any real ceiling, unless he magically eliminates his platoon issues.”

We’re nearly a month into 2016, and those platoon issues haven’t subsided. He’s hitting .128/.190/.179 against righties with a 28.6 percent strikeout rate, which is all obscene, even for him. This also plays into the fact that Norris’s inexplicable approach changes in 2015 have seemingly carried over into this season. His 6.6 percent walk rate is concerning, especially when realizing that it’s paired with a 9.8 percent swinging-strike rate—far from bad, yes, but a career high for Norris and just continuing the increase from a year ago.

Derek Norris has always struggled against spin, which explains why he’s never been able to handle righties, but he’s taken it to another level this year. He’s currently batting .000 on sliders, curveballs, cutters, and splitters. That’s an oh-fer that would make Jeff Mathis blush. Such a dreadful performance seems to be something opposing pitchers would like to exploit; however, he’s actually seeing the fifth-highest percentage of fastballs (67.1 percent) in all of baseball.

Player

Team

FB%

Jason Heyward

Cubs

69.6%

Ben Zobrist

Cubs

68.8%

Angel Pagan

Giants

67.9%

Ketel Marte

Mariners

67.9%

Derek Norris

Padres

67.1%

Considering the 27-year-old catcher swings at the first pitch less than a quarter of the time, though, one wonders if pitchers are using fastballs to comfortably jump ahead in the count and then switch to breaking stuff that he can’t handle. I think it’s why his first-pitch-strike percentage has increased each of the past four years, jumping to 68.3 percent this year.

To be fair, though, Norris is actually hitting the baseball pretty hard when he does put the ball in play, averaging a 91.7 mph exit velocity. For perspective, that would’ve ranked 35th in Major League Baseball a year ago among hitters with at least 100 balls in play—which is not to suggest that Norris will average 91.7 mph the rest of the season, but given that exit velocity through the first three weeks of the season, a .195 BABIP seems rather unrealistic and unsustainably low.

While it’s interesting to dive into the numbers to see how the early-season sausage is made, none of this ultimately changes our preseason valuation of Norris. The numbers do indicate that the Padres’ catcher is better than a .161/.217/.268 slash line, but that’s not really saying much. He’s obviously better than that. Every multi-year big leaguer (who’s a non-catcher) is better than that. The numbers do continue to highlight multiple limitations to his offensive profile, though, and that’s ultimately the story that’s being told here. The concerns that were raised last year have carried over into the 2016 season. He’s probably not a top-10 fantasy catcher this year, even if he does improve in the coming weeks.

BUYER’S GUIDE: HOLD

I feel like I’m looking for my soul / Like a poor man looking for gold.

It’ll get better for Norris owners throughout the course of the season. He can’t sustain a .195 BABIP for too much longer, as it’s one of the twenty worst batting averages on balls in play in the majors among qualified hitters. There’s a chance that Christian Bethancourt starts cutting into his playing time, but the 27-year-old should get it sorted out a bit before that point. Plus, it’s not as if Bethancourt offers much at the plate.

One could make an argument for selling; however, he won’t net anything worthwhile on the trade market and I’m not convinced anything on the waiver wire will be better. That leaves fantasy owners in the difficult spot of holding onto an underperforming asset who lacks significant upside. But, then again, anyone drafting Norris prior to the season wasn’t searching for upside anyway.

Thank you for reading

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ares1800jr
4/25
Thank you I needed this.
Ballparkjack22
4/26
What about Russell Martin? Do you expect him to rebound?